Cues from the internet

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Chris Anderson’s “long tail” theory, the idea that the internet would transform our buying habits and give fringe products (and companies) a chance, providing diversity and giving capitalism a more human face, seems to be overly optimistic. Statistics show that blockbusters are getting almost all of the online business, at least in terms of percentage. Recommendation through social networking and cues generated by collaborative filtering – think Amazon and iTunes recommendations – are making popular products more popular. The technology keeps recommending the top hits, creating logarithms that tilt towards the top sellers. In separate circles of “friends”, completely different products will be catapulted to the top by the internet spindoctors, the alphabloggers.

An article in New Scientist asks “Why, when we have so much information at our fingertips, are we so concerned with what our peers like? Don’t we trust our own judgement?” Is the choice overwhelming us and making us more dependent on outside cues to determine what we like? We’re still Cro-Magnons, after all. Too much information.

I can’t really see a problem here. Mass consumption drives markets, and fringe products will always survive as long as they are someone’s hobby. After all, the internet allows you to keep your overheads low, so setting up a “hobby shop” – think websites for marketing handmade products, like Etsy or Dawandra – is no big deal and a huge opportunity for small business. Both personal and software-generated recommendations are very helpful, especially for small businesspeople and freelancers. The internet has broadened my own horizon and professional scope in more ways than sales. And thanks to search technology, I can keep in touch with my own preferred subcultures. As long as our intelligence is schooled and tempered through human interaction, we can be media-savvy enough to use internet cues to our definite advantage.

Update: Here is Chris Anderson’s response to the artle in the New Scientist.

Photo: Hofschläger,


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